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I was in Symphony Hall, Birmingham a couple of weeks ago, and whilst waiting for the recital to start thought about the mechanical console. This is a 4 manual instrument and the touch, without assistance, would presumably be very heavy. I played the 3 manual organ in Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire many years ago and it was virtually impossible to play on full organ, so heavy was the action.

 

I'm fairly sure that Barker Levers are no longer in vogue so is any form of assistance used or have organ building techniques and materials improved to the point where none is necessary?

 

Thank you.

 

P

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I was in Symphony Hall, Birmingham a couple of weeks ago, and whilst waiting for the recital to start thought about the mechanical console. This is a 4 manual instrument and the touch, without assistance, would presumably be very heavy. I played the 3 manual organ in Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire many years ago and it was virtually impossible to play on full organ, so heavy was the action.

 

I'm fairly sure that Barker Levers are no longer in vogue so is any form of assistance used or have organ building techniques and materials improved to the point where none is necessary?

 

Thank you.

 

P

The mechanical console at Symphony Hall has electric coupling (as do most big, new, supposedly mechanical action organs these days!), though Pos-Gt can be switched between mechanical and electric. I think people are coming round to the fact that mechanical action and the 'symphonic' type of organ don't necessarily go together.

Am I right in thinking the Willis firm has built or rebuilt some organs with Barker lever recently? Cavaille-Coll was known to have thought Barker lever the best way round the heavy touch and didn't think much of pneumatic actions - sensible man!

Paul

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Am I right in thinking the Willis firm has built or rebuilt some organs with Barker lever recently?

Paul

 

 

http://www.willis-organs.com/florence_general.html

 

click on: show/hide construction photographs (updated) and scroll about half-way down the page where there are pictures of the Floating Lever being assembled etc..

 

This organ is being loaded into the lorries as I write, delivered to the church on Tuesday morning next week for setting up.

 

DW

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Rather than use electric coupling, a number of firms use something which is a development of Barker Lever. The system used by Fisk in the USA brings down the keys of the coupled manuals at a rate that completely mirrors the travel of the main (tracker) manual in use. This is clearly the way to go and other firms use this or their version of it. Barry Jordan's new organ in Magdeburg has a similar system which he demonstrated to me - it is superb and fascinating to watch.

 

The two problems of electric coupling IMHO are these.

1. somewhere in the system, there has to be additional mass to shift, or at the very least the opportunity for friction on the main (tracker) action.

2. electronic solenoids are essentially one-trick ponies. When they're on, they're on and they respond (at high speed) with no subtlety at all.

 

Maybe someone will come up with something we can use in organs that operates like the master and slave systems used in aeronautics - I have often thought that these would be the ideal way to work a distant swell-pedal. I imagine it is very expensive to try and probably takes up a deal of room.

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Rather than use electric coupling, a number of firms use something which is a development of Barker Lever. The system used by Fisk in the USA brings down the keys of the coupled manuals at a rate that completely mirrors the travel of the main (tracker) manual in use. This is clearly the way to go and other firms use this or their version of it.

 

I'm sure we've had this discussion before: actually theirs is a version of ours (Patented 1884)!

 

There are several other uses to which the Floating Lever was put, including as a means of operating the steering gear on ships. We are now also looking at this as an alternative method of operating expression shutters.

 

DW

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I'm sure we've had this discussion before: actually theirs is a version of ours (Patented 1884)!

Is it? What I find so charming about the floating lever is the fact that the action wasn't interrupted, as it is invariably in Barker-based mechanisms, of which the Kowalyshin lever is one, if I get it correctly. To have a lever with shifting pivots, which at the same time move the valves controlling the supporting bellows, is a stroke of genius.

 

The Kowalyshin lever I had the opportunity to try out at Lausanne. Very easy, very elegant.

 

BTW, don't forget the Syncodia system, that couples two of Cynic's one-trick ponys who antagonistically control the valve movement.

 

Best,

Friedrich

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I played the 3 manual organ in Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire many years ago and it was virtually impossible to play on full organ, so heavy was the action.

 

This is one of my little soapboxes, and this particular instrument is a good example. After its recent rebuild, it's quite possibly even worse than it was before, and absolutely needlessly so. There is no need at all for a tracker organ to necessarily be heavy. There is absolutely no need at all for anything manual handling related to be heavy; it's all a question of levers and physics. Just ask anyone who moves pianos for a living.

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I'm sure we've had this discussion before: actually theirs is a version of ours (Patented 1884)!

 

There are several other uses to which the Floating Lever was put, including as a means of operating the steering gear on ships. We are now also looking at this as an alternative method of operating expression shutters.

 

DW

 

Interestingly, the Kowalyshyn machine was developed from a Skinner idea: a machine for working swell shutters. Steve Kowalyshyn did not know of the floating lever when he designed his little device.

 

 

 

 

B

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"I'm fairly sure that Barker Levers are no longer in vogue"

 

In 'modernist' organ building, not. There are now several organ builders who have restored or copied Cavaillé-Coll organs who can make their own Barker machines, without resorting to ordering them in from a supply house. The disadvantages (space, noise, cost) are well known. Still, the advantages of any pneumatic assistance when required far outweighs the disadvantages of cheap and nasty electric coupling, still surprisingly common. Fisk have used their own lever since 1990, I think its wonderful that Willis have revived theirs! Bravo!!

 

"I think people are coming round to the fact that mechanical action and the 'symphonic' type of organ don't necessarily go together."

 

But, as you more or less suggest, Cavaillé-Coll proves this is not the case.

 

Greetings

 

Bazuin

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"I think people are coming round to the fact that mechanical action and the 'symphonic' type of organ don't necessarily go together."

But, as you more or less suggest, Cavaillé-Coll proves this is not the case.

Should that read "… that unassisted mechanical action and the 'symphonic' type …"?

 

Best,

Friedrich

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There is no need at all for a tracker organ to necessarily be heavy. There is absolutely no need at all for anything manual handling related to be heavy; it's all a question of levers and physics.

Well, yes, up to a point, but the physics says that the price you pay for reducing heaviness via a lever is to increase the distance you move your end of the lever and there's a limit to the acceptable depth of a key travel.

 

At the end of the day, good design and engineering can reduce the friction and the inertia of the sticks and strings, but you're still left with the work of opening the pallets, which if you've got 3 manuals coupled up with subs- and supers- and anything more than very moderate wind pressure is going to be noticeable.

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Sorry to go off topic, but when I looked up the link above and had a good look around your site, I couldn't believe the size of the 4 manual console for a private residence you have recently completed. Without giving any information away obviously, would this be the largest house organ in this country?

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BTW, don't forget the Syncodia system, that couples two of Cynic's one-trick ponys who antagonistically control the valve movement.

 

Best,

Friedrich

Does anyone know whether Syncordia are still in business? Can't find them on the web. This, however, looks similar:

http://www.novelorg.com/site/pages/accueil_en.html

 

Such magnets are extremely expensive, I understand.

 

IFB

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http://www.willis-organs.com/florence_general.html

 

click on: show/hide construction photographs (updated) and scroll about half-way down the page where there are pictures of the Floating Lever being assembled etc..

 

This organ is being loaded into the lorries as I write, delivered to the church on Tuesday morning next week for setting up.

 

DW

 

I went to see this organ a couple of weeks ago. It is absolutely stunning.

 

Peter

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I couldn't believe the size of the 4 manual console for a private residence you have recently completed. Without giving any information away obviously, would this be the largest house organ in this country?

 

Greetings Guilmant,

 

The late Charles Myres who was O&C at Clitheroe had an electronic with a huge 4 manual console in his home, the console was built by Nicholsons and no corners were cut on quality. CM claimed that it was the largest 4 man. console in the country at the time (1975ish), so it would have been bigger than the RAH. It contained a very comprehensive cathedral scheme, plus the whole of the Kensington Gore RCO organ (for teaching purposes). I am guessing that Makins supplied the electronics, there was one speaker - the size of a wardrobe! Memories of playing playing were that it didn't sound particularly pleasant.

I don't know what happened to it after CMs death, George Sixsmith may well have taken it in, I know that George did not want to see it broken up for parts.

 

Regards,

David

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Does anyone know whether Syncordia are still in business? Can't find them on the web. This, however, looks similar:

http://www.novelorg.com/site/pages/accueil_en.html

 

Such magnets are extremely expensive, I understand.

 

IFB

 

I had heard that they were out of business. Rieger used the Syncordia system in one organ and ripped it out again as it never worked, and if I am not going completely mad somebody from Fisk told me that they'd done the same.

 

 

B

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How useful are balanciers?

 

Presumably they reduce the weight of touch, but do they compromise repetition speed, or anything else for that matter?

3

 

 

They are indeed very useful. I’ve added a link (http://www.facebook.com/photo.php?pid=5286413&l=02b27&id=892180584) of a picture of the ones from the Great of the Walker organ at St. Chad’s Cathedral, Birmingham. They feature on every manual division for a least two octaves from the bottom. The results are fantastic and they hardly take up any room. The repetition is fine and there is still that feeling of a solid ‘pluck’. On this organ there is no need for electrical coupling and all coupling is natural save actually ‘seeing’ the keys going down. Rieger also use balanciers, but they use the square-drop version but still they work very well.

 

Talking about Symphony Hall as I saw earlier, when I served my time there, as Scholar I wasn’t really convinced by the need for mechanical action for that organ. Recitalists always use the electric console, but when playing the mechanical one it always felt soggy even when coupled or un-coupled. The dual action can also be another factor for things to go wrong and just it just interferes rather than anything.

 

 

Happy playing!...

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Thanks, Jonathan.

 

Balanciers do seem a very simple concept compared to floating levers, and appear to be quite effective from what you say.

 

Thanks for the picture. The leather(?) looks a bit like Cambozola cheese! Yum, yum!

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It is fascinating to feel the hot air that has been expended on this subject over the forty years that have passed since I was a schoolboy. As a parish church organist since I was fourteen I have played organs with Victorian tracker action, trigger swell pedals, balanced swell pedals, electro pneumatic, direct electric, barker lever etc etc. If done properly, they can all work very well, but it really doesn't matter at all which is used because the people listening can't hear the difference anyway. What matters is the siting of the instrument and the quality of the scaling and the voicing of the pipework, plus competence in winding and making it all work properly. After that, accessibility and ease of maintenance are critical.

 

A lot on money has been wasted recreating ingenious and marvellous solutions that can now be done much better in other ways. Surely it's as simple as this, isn't it? If the layout permits, use a properly designed mechanical action. If not, use a good electro-pneumatic or direct electric. The dual console arrangements that we seen over the past couple of decades are just a stupid waste of money, aren't they?

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It is fascinating to feel the hot air that has been expended on this subject over the forty years that have passed since I was a schoolboy. As a parish church organist since I was fourteen I have played organs with Victorian tracker action, trigger swell pedals, balanced swell pedals, electro pneumatic, direct electric, barker lever etc etc. If done properly, they can all work very well, but it really doesn't matter at all which is used because the people listening can't hear the difference anyway. What matters is the siting of the instrument and the quality of the scaling and the voicing of the pipework, plus competence in winding and making it all work properly. After that, accessibility and ease of maintenance are critical.

 

A lot on money has been wasted recreating ingenious and marvellous solutions that can now be done much better in other ways. Surely it's as simple as this, isn't it? If the layout permits, use a properly designed mechanical action. If not, use a good electro-pneumatic or direct electric. The dual console arrangements that we seen over the past couple of decades are just a stupid waste of money, aren't they?

Ha ha, "but don't you see, he's wearing nothing at all!"

 

I have a lot of sympathy for what you've said, and with due deference to out hosts, it this sort of attitude that leaves us with farcical situations like a major, and wonderful, cathedral organ in the South West of England upon which it is impossible to make pipes from coupled divisions speak in sync with each other. So actually in some cases what you've said is wrong, if proper modernisation was allowed to take place instead of pedantic maintenance of historical curiosities, the man or woman in the pew would hear a difference - an improvement because the instrument would function better as a result of the technilogical progress.

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It is fascinating to feel the hot air that has been expended on this subject over the forty years that have passed since I was a schoolboy. As a parish church organist since I was fourteen I have played organs with Victorian tracker action, trigger swell pedals, balanced swell pedals, electro pneumatic, direct electric, barker lever etc etc. If done properly, they can all work very well, but it really doesn't matter at all which is used because the people listening can't hear the difference anyway. What matters is the siting of the instrument and the quality of the scaling and the voicing of the pipework, plus competence in winding and making it all work properly. After that, accessibility and ease of maintenance are critical.

 

A lot on money has been wasted recreating ingenious and marvellous solutions that can now be done much better in other ways. Surely it's as simple as this, isn't it? If the layout permits, use a properly designed mechanical action. If not, use a good electro-pneumatic or direct electric. The dual console arrangements that we seen over the past couple of decades are just a stupid waste of money, aren't they?

 

 

Hmmm - well I can see where you are going BUT. One could have a perfectly sighted organ with perfect quality of scaling and voicing, let alone the best materials and competent winding making it all work properly. However there is no point in having a perfectly voiced organ if the action is not adequate or accessible (Brindley and Foster comes to mind). If anything, I think modern organ building is learning and developing ways in which new organs can be more accessible from the inside. I've come across so many Victorian organs where it is clearly evident that they had failed to think of the maintenance side of it (how long have they been making pipe organs?).

However, in reality none of these factors actually works in harmony in the way we would like. The pipe organ is an imperfect instrument that (in this country) is dictated mainly by cost. Most modern organs in this country are now built with mechanical actions like those Victorian ones were made by hundred's of years ago, but there must be a compromise on all the above factors in order to get the 'perfect' organ. I think it does matter to get a good action and one that will last for hundreds of years (and there are many examples of those). I do also think it does make a difference on the people who are listening and I don't think money has been wasted in developing new ideas where advantageous.

 

I hope that makes sense!

 

p.s. are Van den Heuvel Orgelbouw still using Barker Machines in their new organs?

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if proper modernisation was allowed to take place instead of pedantic maintenance of historical curiosities, the man or woman in the pew would hear a difference - an improvement because the instrument would function better as a result of the technilogical progress.

 

So why do most of the electric manufacturers boast that their product is just as good as the system which has been around for hundreds of years, then?

 

Name me a single electric or pneumatic job which has gone on for 50+ years without needing a virtually new action at the end of it.

 

You can reinvent the wheel as much as you want, but you'll be left with a device which doesn't go round.

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Ha ha, "but don't you see, he's wearing nothing at all!"

 

I have a lot of sympathy for what you've said, and with due deference to out hosts, it this sort of attitude that leaves us with farcical situations like a major, and wonderful, cathedral organ in the South West of England upon which it is impossible to make pipes from coupled divisions speak in sync with each other. So actually in some cases what you've said is wrong, if proper modernisation was allowed to take place instead of pedantic maintenance of historical curiosities, the man or woman in the pew would hear a difference - an improvement because the instrument would function better as a result of the technilogical progress.

Though I note the list of actions 'Victorian tracker action, trigger swell pedals, balanced swell pedals, electro pneumatic, direct electric, barker lever etc etc' that 'If done properly, they can all work very well' doesn't include tubular pneumatic . . . :D

Paul

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